India’s Anti-Christian Violence in 2008 Linked to Terrorists

Christians call for agency to probe anti-Muslim terrorism ties to Orissa-Karnataka attacks.

NEW DELHI, March 25 (CDN) — Right-wing terrorists played a key role in attacking and killing Christians in Orissa and Karnataka states in 2008, one of the Hindu extremist suspects in anti-Muslim bomb blasts has told investigators, leading to renewed demands for a probe by India’s anti-terror agency.

Pragya Singh Thakur, arrested for planning 2008 bombings targeting Muslims in west India, told the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that Lt. Col. Prasad Srikant Purohit had “masterminded” the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Orissa and Karnataka, The Indian Express daily reported on Wednesday (March 23). Purohit is accused along with Thakur for the 2008 bombings of Muslims.

Thakur had met with Purohit after the August 2008 Kandhamal attacks against Christians began and told her “he was into big things like blasts, etc., and had masterminded the Orissa and Karnataka ‘disturbances,’” the national daily reported.

The NIA, a recently formed agency to prevent, probe and prosecute terrorism-related incidents on a national scale, is investigating several cases involving right-wing terrorism aimed at the Muslim minority in retaliation for Islamist attacks. Both Thakur, formerly a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s student wing, and Purohit, who was serving in the Indian Army when he was arrested for his role in blasts in Malegaon city in western Maharashtra state, were part of the Hindu extremist Abhinav Bharat.

Thakur’s statement to the NIA came soon after a Directorate of Military Intelligence report said Purohit had confessed to having killed at least two Christians in Kandhamal and playing a role in violence in Karnataka and other states.

The revelation by Thakur was not surprising, said John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council.

“We have held that the military precision of the Kandhamal riots, which spread fast and raged for months, could not be a work of mere common people, and that higher brains were at work to ‘teach the Christians a lesson’ while sending out signals of their power lust to the entire nation,” Dayal told Compass.

The violence in Kandhamal began following the assassination of a Hindu extremist leader Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008. Though Maoists claimed responsibility for the murder, Hindu extremists blamed Christians for it. The violence began after the arrival of Indresh Kumar, an executive committee member of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and a suspect in blast cases, said Kandhamal activist Ajay Singh. Local media reports said Kumar was part of Saraswati’s funeral procession, which was designed to trigger the attacks, Singh added.

The RSS denies having played any role in terrorism. On March 12, Ram Madhav, an RSS national executive committee member, called the allegation against Kumar “a concerted political campaign.” Those who were dragging the RSS leader into blast cases “will stand thoroughly exposed,” The Times of India daily quoted him as saying.

Dayal and another Christian leader, Joseph Dias, said they had separately written to India’s prime minister and home minister seeking inclusion of the anti-Christian attacks in an ongoing NIA investigation. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said he had petitioned the president for the same.

Dias, general secretary of the Catholic-Christian Social Forum, a Maharashtra-based rights group, recalled that violence in Kandhamal spread across 13 other districts of Orissa.

“In Kandhamal alone, more than 6,600 homes were destroyed, 56,000 people rendered homeless, thousands injured, and about 100 men and women [were] burned alive or hacked to death,” Dias said. “Among the women raped was a Catholic nun.”

In September 2008, as the violence continued in Kandhamal, a series of attacks on Christians and their property rocked Mangalore city in Karnataka state.

“In Karnataka, it was hundreds of churches that were desecrated, Christians brutally beaten up, over 350 false cases foisted on them, property held by the community taken over, and no relief to date [has been] received,” Dias said.

While the government of Orissa downplayed the violence as “ethnic tensions,” Karnataka officials blamed it on Christian conversions.

The RSS and outfits linked to it such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, which claims to work for tribal welfare, facilitated the Kandhamal attacks together with alleged Hindu nationalist terrorists, Dayal said.

“We want the truth about Hindu groups’ anti-national terror activities against minority Christians to come out,” said George, whose GCIC is based in Karnataka.

Dias warned that that the latest statement by Thakur must not to be seen in isolation, as the Military Intelligence report revealed that the Abhinav Bharat had targeted Christians in several states, including Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The “game plan” is to “cripple Christian religious places, property and institutions, besides eliminating its nascent community leadership at the grassroots,” Dias added.

The Abhinav Bharat was formed in 2007 by a few right-wing Hindus allegedly disillusioned with the leaders of the Hindu nationalist movement, whom they thought were too timid to make India a Hindu nation, rather than one based on religious pluralism.

Report from Compass Direct News

India Briefs: Recent Incidents of Persecution

UTTARAKHAND, India, November 3 (CDN) — Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal on Oct. 25 disrupted the Sunday worship of a Ministry of the Gospel service in Rudrapur and accused the pastor of forceful conversion. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that the extremists barged into the worship service led by Pastor Victor Massey, tore Bibles and took all Christian literature. They threatened to attack anew if the congregation continued to meet for worship, adding that they would force Hindu rituals on them. Ministry of the Gospel leader S.K. Puri told Compass that church officials reported the matter to the district collector and superintendent of police, but when Hindu nationalists heard about the complaint they accosted Pastor Massey on Oct. 30 and again threatened to force Hindu rituals on the congregation. Christian leaders have asked local authorities to provide police protection.

Karnataka – A mob of about 50 Hindu extremists attacked a church on Oct. 25 in old Hubli, burning Bibles and Christian literature. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that at about 11 a.m. the Hindu hardliners barged into the prayer meeting of Assembly of God Church and dragged out Pastor David Raj. The attack reportedly began after an unidentified man in attendance repeatedly went in and out of the church building; he was requested to remain sitting so as not to disturb the sermon. The man left and returned with 50 extremists, led by area Bajrang Dal leader Jayathirtha Kati. After the Hindu extremists verbally abused the church members, set fire to the Christian literature and dragged the pastor out to the street, local police arrived and, as is customary in India, detained the victims. They took the pastor, his wife and two church members to the police station and only with local Christian leaders’ intervention were the Christians released at about 5 p.m.

Assam – Hindu extremists and the head of Dayung village called a meeting on Oct. 23 to oppose a Christian ministry after a young woman who became a Christian refused to renounce her faith, a source told Compass. Tara Sabha’s family beat and disowned her after she told the village council that she would not leave Christianity at any cost, the source said. Sabha had received Christ earlier in October. The source told Compass that Hindu extremists held Enosh Lepcha of First Evangelical Church Association of India (FECAI) responsible for the conversion, and on Oct. 23 they and the village head called a public meeting in which they threatened a social boycott if the ministry continued its activities. FECAI’s Abbay Pradhan told Compass that due to extremist pressure, the ministry has stopped many activities.

Andhra Pradesh – Suspected Hindu extremists set fire to India Mission Society Church in Warrangal on Oct. 22, damaging more than half of the building. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that unidentified people set the church building ablaze at about 2 a.m. Pastor P. Kumarswamy contacted the fire department, which arrived after more than half of the building had been destroyed. Police registered a First Information Report, and an investigation is underway.

Karnataka – Hindu nationalists forced an evangelist and other Christians to go to a police station on false charges of forcible conversion on Oct. 21 after barging into the church leader’s home and demanding money for a Hindu festival in Undedasarahalli, Chikamaglur district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Hindu radicals leveled the charges after evangelist Kumar Nayak of the Assemblies of God refused to give a donation for the Diwali festival. Nayak and his family were about to leave home for the last of a three-day prayer meeting when nearly 30 extremists led by Prakash Nayak forcibly entered their house and tried to force them to give money for the Hindu rite. The intolerant Hindus verbally abused them, warning that they would not be allowed to stay in the village, and forced Nayak, his wife Bembitha, 52-year-old widow Lalitha Bai and her three children to go to the Banavara police station and filed a complaint. With GCIC intervention, all but Kumar Nayak were released at 11:30 p.m., with the evangelist detained until midnight on condition of reporting to the police station at 9 a.m. the next morning. After extensive questioning the next day, Nayak was released at 4 p.m. without being charged.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists on Oct. 18 attacked a worship service in Hyderabad, beating a pregnant woman and her child and seriously injuring a pastor’s ear. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that about 15 people from the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh barged into the service led by Pastor Siluvai Kumar and two others pastors, verbally abused the Christians and accused them of forceful conversion. The intolerant Hindus tore and threw Bibles and damaged the church facility, including musical instruments. The Hindu extremists later dragged a pastor identified only as Timothy to Kukatpally police station and filed a false charge of urinating on nearby temple idols. With the intervention of the local Christian leaders, police summoned the attackers to the police station, where the parties reached an agreement in which the extremists apologized to the Christians and pledged not to attack them.

Uttar Pradesh – On Oct. 15 Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) in Pratap Garh accused Pastor Sunil Singh of the Full Gospel Church of fraudulent conversion and threatened to kill him if his church continues its worship services. A source told Compass that the extremists went to the pastor’s house to deliver the threat. The Hindu hardliners filed a police complaint against the pastor of offering money to people to convert to Christianity. Police summoned the pastor to the police station for questioning, and an investigation was underway.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists on Oct. 13 stopped construction of a Methodist church building and verbally abused Pastor M. Gabriel in Nizamabad. The All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that the Hindu extremists along with the village head, Vital Reddy, were responsible for the hostilities. The pastor filed a police complaint charging harassment and contacted the district collector and superintendent of police, but no action had been taken at press time. An AICC representative told Compass that the pastor has stopped church construction to avoid further disturbances.

Karnataka – State police on Oct. 10 arrested Christians on false charges of forcible conversion in Gowdigere village, Hubli, Dharwad district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that at 9 a.m. about 30 local Hindu nationalists barged into the house of a Christian woman identified only as Venkatamma just after the end of a prayer service. The extremists falsely accused Friends Missionary Prayer Band Mission Pastor Murthy Nayak Ganesh and evangelist Chandrakanth Gopanna Lambani of fraudulently luring people to Christianity. Later the extremists forced the Christians to the village temple, and then telephoned Kundugol police who came to the temple and took the Christians to the station, charging them “punishment of criminal conspiracy,” among others. With GCIC intervention, the pastors were released on Oct. 12, but it was not clear at press time whether charges were still pending.

Punjab – Hindu extremists in Samral Chowk, Ludhiana on Oct. 6 severely beat and stabbed a Christian worker, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). At About 7:30 a.m. Vijay Kumar, an Indian Pentecostal Church worker and a former student of Punjab Bible College, was distributing gospel tracts when five Hindu extremists arrived in a vehicle with a non-numbered license plate and forced him into it. Beating and stabbing him with a knife in his chest and leg while taking him to different sites, they questioned him about how much money he had received to become a Christian and asked with which Christian groups he was associated, EFI reported. They later took him to a jungle and continued torturing him. A Christian search team began looking for Kumar at 7:30 p.m., and at 2 a.m. that night they received a phone call from him saying the assailants had taken him back to his village and thrown him from the running vehicle. He was taken to Christian Medical College with severe injuries but was recovering well. A complaint was filed at Shingaar police station, but no arrests had been made at press time.

Chhattisgarh – Hindu extremists attacked a pastor and his family and later accused them of forced conversion and other false charges in Jyotipur village, Bilaspur district. Pastor Markus Das of the Assembly of God Church on Oct. 4 went to visit a family in Sadwani village along with his wife and children. On their way back their van had a flat tire, and as his friend Atul Arthur gave them a ride home, a group of people from the Rathore community – closely aligned with the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal – attacked them. They accused Pastor Das of forcible conversion and tried to drag him and others out of the vehicle, causing minor injuries. They damaged the vehicle, smashing the windows. Pastor Das and his family managed to escape, but the next morning when he went back to pick up his van, he was told that the forest department had confiscated his vehicle after allegedly finding illegal wood in it. Pastor Das said the Rathore community set a trap. “They broke the front windshield of my car and planted the wood in my car when I was away,” he said. A First Information Report has been filed against Pastor Das indicting him for forced conversion and carrying illegal wood, and the pastor has filed an FIR against members of the Rathore Community in the Gorala police station.

Chhattisgarh – Hindu extremists in Raipur on Oct. 3 tried to pressure a Christian family into giving up their faith. The extremists also threatened to publicly dishonor Pastor Kamlakar Roa Bokade by filing charges of forcible conversion against him if he did not stop visiting the family of Modichandan Sahu, a convert who has regularly attended worship services for the past 15 years. Modichandan Sahu’s two daughters had married non-Christians under social pressure, and one of her sons-in-law, Bhuwan Sahu, a member of the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party, cut off relations with his in-laws several years ago because of his opposition to Christianity. Hindu extremists led by Bhuwan Sahu on Oct. 3 stormed Motichandan’s house, pressured her to give up her faith and tried to force her into Hindu ceremonies and ritual. The next day he began threatening Pastor Bokade, telling him by cell phone that they would frame him for forceful conversion. The Chhattisgarh Christian Forum has notified police of the harassment.

Kerala – Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party newspaper The Janmabhumi Daily forced sub-editor Sredevi Nair to resign from her job on Oct. 1 after management learned that she had received Jesus Christ. Nair resigned two days before her baptism, reported The Indian Catholic. The managing editor of the Janmabhumi daily, Kummanam Rajasekharan, reportedly called her during work hours and said it was not possible for a convert to continue with the newspaper. The Indian Catholic reported that Rajasekharan urged Nair to convert her Christian husband to Hinduism and have a marriage ceremony at a Hindu temple. The Indian Express quoted Janmabhumi Editor Leela Menon as saying that that she was against conversion, and that Nair was trying to malign the newspaper after her resignation.

Madhya Pradesh – Members of the Hindu extremist Abhinav Bharat on Sept. 28 stormed into a house church in Adhartal, on the outskirts of Jabalpur. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that at 12:30 p.m. about 15 of the intolerant Hindus arrived on motorcycles and broke into the house church meeting shouting “Jai Sri Ram [Hail to Lord Ram)” and vandalized the property, including damaging the cross at the entrance. The Hindu extremists threatened 51-year-old Pastor Peter Johnson with further attacks. Pastor Johnson filed a complaint with Adhartal police station in Jabalpur, and police have reportedly forwarded it to the City Superintendent of Police and Collector. GCIC reported that police assured a speedy investigation. The Abhinav Bharat is already under the government scanner for anti-Muslim bomb blasts, and some of their leaders holding government posts are in custody and on trial.

Madhya Pradesh – For the third time, radicals from the minority Jains religion on Sept. 27 attacked and threatened the church of Pastor Mukesh Pal of Rajgarh, Dhar district. About a dozen of the Jains, all members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, interrupted a worship service of some 500 mainly tribal people and cursed, criticized and accused Christians of fraudulent conversion, eating cow meat and mixing harmful chemicals into anointing oil used for prayers for the sick. The Jains religion advocates non-violence and vegetarianism. After those attending the church service argued with the radicals, the extremists left but returned with five policemen. A doctor was called on the spot to test the prayer oil, and he certified it as chemical-free. Nevertheless, police arrested Pastor Mukesh Pal and Ganpat Goyal, and many from the church followed and stood outside the police station demanding the release of the two Christians. After calls from Christian friends, high-ranking officers ensured that police release the two Christians. Pastor Pal told Compass that the radicals attacked their prayer hall in June 2006, badly damaging it. They arrived again in August 2006, warning the Christians not to hold more services and accusing them of forcible conversion, although they did no physical harm.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists led by Venkat Reddy attacked a Christian identified only as Abhishek, from Hebron Church, and accused him of forceful conversion on Sept. 25 in Ranga Reddy. The All Indian Christian Council (AICC) reported that the extremists attacked the Christian while he was conducting a Bible school class at Hamamguda, mercilessly beating him and accusing him of organizing the study program to forcibly convert children to Christianity. Abhishek received treatment at Apollo Santoshnagar Hospital, reported AICC. The extremists filed a police complaint against the Christian, but later forced the Christian to agree to stop the Bible program.

Report from Compass Direct News 


U.S. religious rights panel cites culture of impunity at authorities allowing atrocities.

NEW DELHI, August 18 (Compass Direct News) – Ahead of one-year remembrances of massive anti-Christian violence in the eastern state of Orissa, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has put India on its “Watch List” for the country’s violations of religious freedom, evoking strong reactions from the Indian government.

USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo said in a statement on Wednesday (Aug. 12) that it was “extremely disappointing” that India “has done so little to protect and bring justice to its religious minorities under siege.”

The U.S. panel’s decision was “regrettable,” a spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Vishnu Prakash, said in a statement on Thursday (Aug. 13), after the USCIRF put India on the list due to a “disturbing increase” in violence on minorities and a growing culture of impunity in the country.

Violence erupted in Kandhamal district of the eastern state of Orissa in August-September 2008, killing more than 100 people and burning 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions, according to rights groups such as the All India Christian Council (AICC), the Global Council of India Christians (GCIC) and the Christian Legal Association (CLA).

“India’s democratic institutions charged with upholding the rule of law, most notably state and central judiciaries and police, have emerged as unwilling or unable to seek redress for victims of the violence,” Leo said. “More must be done to ensure future violence does not occur and that perpetrators are held accountable.”

Disagreeing with the USCIRF report, the foreign ministry’s Prakash said India is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. “The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of religion and equality of opportunity to all its citizens, who live and work together in peace and harmony,” he said.

Christians were shocked by the foreign ministry spokesman’s claim that “aberrations, if any, are dealt with promptly within our legal framework, under the watchful eye of an independent judiciary and a vigilant media.”

Attorney Robin Ratnakar David, president of the CLA, told Compass that one year after the violence only six people have been convicted in just two cases of rioting, while several suspects have been acquitted in four such cases despite the formation of fast-track courts.

Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the AICC, pointed out that the more than 50,000 people who fled to forests or took shelter in refugee camps have not returned home out of fear of Hindu nationalist extremists who demand they either convert to Hinduism or leave their villages.

He said there also had been several “pogroms against Muslims, often sponsored or condoned by the state.”

In 2002, India’s worst-ever anti-Muslim violence occurred in the western state of Gujarat. A compartment of a train, the Sabarmati Express, caught fire – or was set on fire (as claimed by Hindu extremists) – near the Godhra city railway station on Feb. 27. In the fire, 58 Hindu passengers, mainly supporters of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), were killed. The VHP and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed it was an attack by Islamic terrorists; the ensuing violence killed more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims.

Following the anti-Muslim violence, the USCIRF recommended that India be designated a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC), its list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. India was removed from the CPC list in 2005.

Designation on the Watch List means a country requires “close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the government,” according to USCIRF. The other countries on USCIRF’s Watch List are Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, the Russian Federation, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela.

CLA attorney David said the August-September 2008 violence in Kandhamal could have been prevented had the administration brought to justice those responsible for previous mayhem in December 2007. The December 2007 violence in Kandhamal killed at least four Christians, burned as many as 730 houses and 95 churches and rendered thousands homeless.

The attacks were launched under the pretext of avenging an alleged attack on a VHP leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati. It was the assassination of Saraswati by Maoists (extreme Marxists) on Aug. 23, 2008 that sparked the second spate of violence in Kandhamal, as Hindu nationalists blamed non-Marxist, local Christians for it.

Dayal said the USCIRF’s latest conclusions could have been avoided if more action had been taken against the perpetrators of last year’s violence.

“The USCRIF action would not have been possible, and India would have been able to rebuff the U.S. scrutiny more effectively, if several thousand Christians were still not in refugee camps, if the killers were still not roaming scot-free and if witnesses, including widows, were not being coerced,” he said.


Shashi Tharoor, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, told a private news channel that India did not need approbation from outside its borders.

“As far as we are concerned, we are essentially indifferent to how others view the situation,” he said. “In democracy, what matters to us is how we deal with our own internal issues. I don’t think we need any certificates from outside.”

He dismissed the report as meddling in internal affairs even though between June 2002 and February 2007 Tharoor served as under-secretary general for communications and public information for the United Nations, a body representative of international accountability in human rights.

In its annual report, India’s home (interior) ministry had acknowledged that the incidence of communal violence was high. It noted that in 2008, as many as 943 communal incidents (mainly against Muslims and Christians) took place in which 167 persons were killed and 2,354 persons were injured. The figures were up from those of 2007, when there were 761 incidents in which 99 persons were killed and 2,227 persons were injured.

Justifying its decision, the USCIRF report stated that several incidents of communal violence have occurred in various parts of the country resulting in many deaths and mass displacements, particularly of members of the Christian and Muslim minorities, “including major incidents against Christian communities within the 2008-2009 reporting period.”

“Because the government’s response at the state and local levels has been found to be largely inadequate and the national government has failed to take effective measures to ensure the rights of religious minorities in several states, the Commission decided to place India on its Watch List.”

The USCIRF had released its 2009 annual report on religious freedom across the globe on May 1 but put the India report on hold, planning to prepare it after a visit to the country in June. A USCIRF team planned to visit India to speak to the government and others concerning the situation in Kandhamal and Gujarat on June 12, but the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C. did not provide visas in time.

“USCIRF’s India chapter was released this week to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of the anti-Christian violence in Orissa,” Leo pointed out in last week’s statement.

‘Teflon-Coated State’

The AICC’s Dayal seemed pessimistic about a change in the government’s attitude.

“Unfortunately, nothing really impacts the government of India or the government of Indian states,” he said. “The state, and our social conscience, seems Teflon-coated. The patriotic media and political sector dismiss international scrutiny as interference in the internal affairs of India, and a beaten-into-submission section of the leadership of religious minorities assumes silence to be the best form of security and safety.”

Dr. Sajan George, the national convenor of the GCIC, said the report showed that India had become a “super violator” of human rights. The Rev. Dr. Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said the U.S. panel’s report did not augur well with India’s claim to find a respectable place within the community of nations.

“India as an emerging economic power in the world should also endeavor to better its records of protecting human rights, particularly when it comes to religious freedom of its citizens,” Joseph said.

Joseph told Compass the USCIRF report was “a clear indication of the growing concern of the international community with India’s repeated failure to take decisive and corrective measures to contain religious intolerance.”

Christian leaders generally lauded the report, with Dayal saying, “India’s record on the persecution of minorities and the violation of religious freedom has been a matter of international shame for the nation.”

Report from Compass Direct News 


How Hindu extremist BJP will respond to surprising defeat, though, remains to be seen.

NEW DELHI, May 21 (Compass Direct News) – Christians in India are heaving a sigh of relief after the rout of a Hindu nationalist party in national and state assembly elections in Orissa state, a scene of anti-Christian arson and carnage last year.

The ruling centrist party won a second term, but concerns over persecution of minorities remain.

A local centrist party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), took charge of the government of the eastern state of Orissa today, and tomorrow the new federal government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be sworn in, representing a second term for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the left-of-center Indian National Congress, commonly known as the Congress Party.

“The election result is a statement against the persecution of non-Hindus,” Vijay Simha, a senior journalist and political analyst, told Compass.

“There were a string of incidents against non-Hindus, which were principally enacted by right-wing outfits,” added Simha, who reported on anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal district of Orissa in August-September 2008. “Since the vote went against right-wing parties, the result is a strong rejection of extremist religious programs.”

John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council (AICC), said the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was “defeated not by Christians or Muslims, but by secular Hindus.”

Over 80 percent of the more than 1 billion people in India are Hindu. Christians form around 2.3 percent of the population, and Muslims about 14 percent.

The Times of India on Saturday (May 16) quoted Rahul Gandhi, general secretary of the Congress Party, as saying that his party’s victory was a rejection of politics of caste and religion and acceptance of “clean and honest” policies symbolized by Prime Minister Singh.

“Internal criticisms within the BJP have brought out that it is losing popularity among youth as well as among the urban middle classes, two segments where it had been strong earlier and which represent the emergent India of the 21st century,” stated an editorial in the daily.


The BJP’s defeat at the national level is expected to compel the party to decide whether it turns to moderation in its ideology or more extremism in desperation.

“The BJP now faces a dilemma … Its appeal based on Hindutva [Hindu nationalism] and divisiveness stands rejected by the electorate,” wrote Prem Prakash of ANI news agency. “Where does the party go from here? … The party seems to be waiting for the RSS to provide answers for all this . . . The time has come for it to clearly define what kind of secularism it accepts or preaches.”

Hopes of Christians, however, abound.

“I am hoping that the BJP will learn that it does not pay to persecute minorities, and that civilized Hindus are disgusted with divisive antics of the RSS family,” said the AICC’s Dayal.

Father Dominic Emmanuel of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese is also hopeful.

“Let’s hope that the new government would work harder to protect all minorities, particularly the constitutional guarantees with regard to religious freedom,” he said.

Father Babu Joseph of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India said, “The Indian Catholic bishops are confident that the Congress Party-led UPA government will keep its promises of safeguarding the country from communal and divisive forces and restore confidence among all sections of people, particularly among the religious minorities for providing a stable, secular and democratic government.”

Threats Continue

The defeat of the BJP, however, may not bring much respite to those facing persecution at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups.

“One would expect a lessening in persecution of Christians and other non-Hindus – however, extremist groups often step up activities to garner funds and patronage when they are on the retreat,” warned journalist Simha. “So, one could also see a rise in anti-minority activities.”

The BJP, which began ruling the federal government in 1998, was defeated by the Congress Party in 2004, which, too, was seen as a mandate against Hindu nationalism. Prime Minister Singh said during his swearing in ceremony in May 2004 that the mandate for the Congress-led UPA was for change and “strengthening the secular foundation of our republic.”

After the BJP’s defeat, however, Christian persecution did not stop. According to the Christian Legal Association, at least 165 anti-Christian attacks were reported in 2005, and over 130 in 2006. In 2007, the number of incidents rose to over 1,000, followed by the worst-ever year, 2008, for the Christian minority in India.

Forsaking its extremist ideology could also be difficult for the BJP because there was a leadership change in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist conglomerate and the parent organization of the BJP, a month before the elections. On March 21, Mohan Rao Bhagwat, formerly general secretary, was made the head of the RSS.

On March 22, The Hindu quoted an anonymous leader of the BJP as saying, “Mr. Bhagwat has clarity in ideology; he is a quick decision-maker; he takes everybody along; and he expects 100 per cent implementation of decisions.”

A day before his ascent to the top position, Bhagwat had sent a message to RSS workers across the country to come out in full force and “ensure 100 percent voting” in “the interest of Hindus” during this year’s elections, added the daily.

Further, after the BJP’s defeat in 2004, sections of the cadre of the RSS and affiliated groups broke away from the conglomerate as they felt the organization was too “moderate” to be able to establish a Hindu nation. Among the known Hindu splinter groups are the Abhinav Bharat (Pride of India), which operates mainly in the north-central state of Madhya Pradesh and the western state of Maharashtra, and the Sri Ram Sene (Army of Rama, a Hindu god), which recently became infamous for its violently misogynistic moral policing in the city of Mangalore, Karnataka.

Furthermore, there are pockets, especially in the central parts of the country and parts of Karnataka in the south, where the BJP remains a dominant party.

Embarrassing Defeat

Results of the general elections and state assembly polls in Orissa and the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, which were held simultaneously between April 16 and May 13, were declared on Saturday (May 16).

Of the 543 parliamentary constituencies, 262 went to the UPA. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP, got 160, while the Third Front, a grouping of smaller and regional parties led by communists, bagged only 79.

The Congress Party alone won 206 seats, whereas the BJP’s count was 116 – a strong indication that a majority of the people in Hindu-majority India are against Hindu extremism.

The UPA has the support of 315 Members of Parliament, far higher than the 272 minimum needed to form government.

The embarrassing defeat for the BJP came as a surprise. Hoping to gain from its hardcore Hindu nationalist image, the BJP had made leader Narendra Modi, accused of organizing an anti-Muslim pogrom in the western state of Gujarat in 2002, its star campaigner.

Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, spoke in around 200 election rallies, out of which the party could win only 18 seats outside Gujarat.

In Orissa, where the BJP had openly supported the spate of attacks on Christians in Kandhamal district following the murder of a Hindu nationalist leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, by Maoists on Aug. 23, 2008, the party won not a single parliamentary seat – not even in Kandhamal.

The BJP candidate for the Kandhamal constituency, Ashok Sahu, contested from jail, as he was arrested on April 14 for making an inflammatory speech against Christians. Sahu hoped to gain the sympathy of Hindus by going to jail.

The BJP was sharing power with the ruling BJD in Orissa until March 17. The BJD broke up its 11-year-old alliance with the BJP over its role in the violence that lasted for over a month and killed more than 127 people and destroyed 315 villages, 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions, besides rendering more than 50,000 homeless.

Even in the state assembly elections in Orissa, the BJP faced a debacle. Of the 147 seats, it won only seven. The BJD swept the polls with 109 seats. The Congress Party managed to get 27.

The seven assembly seats won by the BJP include two from Kandhamal district. The BJP’s Manoj Pradhan, who is facing 14 cases of rioting and murder in connection with the Kandhamal violence, won the G. Udayagiri assembly seat in Kandhamal. In the Balliguda assembly constituency, also in Kandhamal, BJP sitting legislator Karendra Majhi retained the seat. Both G. Udayagiri and Balliguda were at the epicenter of the last year’s violence.

Even in Andhra Pradesh state, where Hindu nationalist groups have launched numerous attacks on Christians in the last few years, the BJP had a poor showing. Of the 42 parliamentary seats, the Congress Party won 33. The BJP’s count was nil.

In assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, the Congress Party won 158 of the 294 seats, gaining a majority to form the state government for another five-year term. The BJP did not get even one seat.

In the northern state of Uttarakhand, where the BJP is a ruling party, its count was zero. The Congress Party won all five parliamentary seats.

In Rajasthan state, also in the north, the BJP could win only four seats. The Congress Party, on the other hand, won 20. The BJP had passed an anti-conversion law in 2006 when it was a ruling party. The bill is yet to be signed by the state governor.

In the 2009 election, the BJP got 10 seats in the eastern state of Chhattisgarh, where the Congress Party got only one. In the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, the BJP won three of the four seats.

In the eastern state of Jharkhand, the BJP bagged eight seats, and the Congress Party only one. In Gujarat, the BJP’s tally was 15, whereas the Congress won 11. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won 16 and Congress 12.

Report from Compass Direct News